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Official: Information On Housatonic River Deal Could Be Made Public In A Few Days

The Housatonic Rest of River Municipal Committee met behind closed doors in Lee, Massachusetts.
Nancy Eve Cohen
The Housatonic Rest of River Municipal Committee met behind closed doors in Lee, Massachusetts.

Berkshire County municipal officials are discussing the details of a possible mediated agreement with General Electric on the cleanup of the Housatonic River.

The committee of representatives from cities and towns along the river met behind closed doors on Wednesday, in an executive session, in Lee Memorial Hall.

Participants in the meeting included representatives from Sheffield, Lee, Great Barrington and Lenox.

Leaving the meeting, most wouldn't answer any questions. But former Lenox Selectman Channing Gibson confirmed the group discussed the mediation.

“We’re making progress,” Gibson said. “It’s been a really involved process.”

The mediation started about 18 months ago.

The biggest sticking point in the proposed $613 million cleanup plan has been where to dispose of the waste, which includes toxic PCBs. The EPA proposed sending it to a facility in Texas, while GE said the waste could be safely disposed on three sites in the Berkshires.

GE, whose now-shuttered Pittsfield plant released the PCBs, is on the hook for cleanup costs.

“I can’t get into any details about what the mediation settlement could represent," Gibson said when pressed for details on the waste disposal location. "But there will be more on that soon.”

Gibson said some information may be made public before Monday.

The mediation process, funded by GE and the EPA, is supposed to settle remaining disputes over the cleanup plan. Some advocates last spring criticized the mediator for the pace of the process, and for disparaging comments he allegedly made. The mediator, John Bickerman, denied the allegations.

The state of Massachusetts has chosen not to participate in the mediation, leading to criticism from some local lawmakers.

The original 1999 cleanup settlement — focusing on a section of the river just downstream on the plant — was signed by GE, the EPA, the city of Pittsfield and the states of Massachusetts and Connecticut. It allowed the company to dispose river sediment containing PCBs at two sites in Pittsfield, one of which is adjacent to the Allendale Elementary School.

As part of that agreement, GE gave the Pittsfield Economic Development Authority $15.3 million. It also gave the city $1 million annually for ten years — money that was designated for economic development.

Correction: Due to an editing error, an earlier version of this story included an incorrect first name for mediator John Bickerman.

Copyright 2020 New England Public Media

Nancy Eve Cohen is a senior reporter focusing on Berkshire County. Previously she served as the editor of the Northeast Environmental Hub, a collaborative of public radio stations. Earlier in her career she was the Midwest editor for NPR in Washington, D.C. Before working in radio, she recorded sound as part of a camera crew for network television news, with assignments in Russia, Guatemala, Mexico, Cuba and in Sarajevo during the war in 1992.

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